SHADY HILLS — Katie Lail's phone kept ringing Thursday with calls from excited teachers who couldn't stop screaming.
Their school — Mary Giella Elementary — had overcome the odds of serving a high-poverty area to earn an A in the Florida grading system and also make "adequate yearly progress" under federal accountability guidelines.
"I am on cloud nine," said Lail, who's completing her first full year as principal. "With what we end up having to do as a result of not making AYP, it really is gratifying to make it."
Giella Elementary was not alone.
Pasco, Fox Hollow, Sanders, Cypress and Chester Taylor elementary schools, and Hudson Middle School all jumped from a C to an A this year as the Pasco school district logged in its largest number of A-rated schools: 49. Another 14 earned B's.
"We actually have a lot to be proud of," superintendent Heather Fiorentino said.
Cox Elementary, which has been restructuring under the No Child Left Behind Act, improved from a D to a C. Hudson Middle, also restructuring, came within three points of earning a B. Lacoochee Elementary moved back up to an A. Pine View Middle became the district's first secondary school to make adequate yearly progress while also scoring an A.
None of the county's schools are headed to the state's most severe level of oversight — intervene — as an outcome of the results. The one down side: Grades are down for many of the district's high schools. (See related story)
Elena Garcia, the district's director of Title I schools, mentioned the focused effort in bringing up the district's toughest schools. Of the 19 Title I schools, 15 made an A or B.
Ten of the them trained administrators and educators in using data to pinpoint academic needs, she said. The district supported that effort with its research and evaluation department. The schools also got math coaches for several of the schools, along with a trainer to assist the effort.
Principals, meanwhile, were trained in how to better interview teacher applicants "to find the right teachers to work with children in poverty," Garcia said.
Over at Lacoochee, principal Karen Marler said the heightened role of involved parents made a huge difference.
Lail said that at Giella Elementary, teachers learned to better individualize their math instruction. Writing lessons became part of every grade level, so the FCAT writing results aren't the sole burden of fourth-grade teachers, she said.
Fifth-grade teachers credited the district's new reading textbooks and material for helping them increase scores.
"All the hard work really has paid off," Lail said.
But it's not over.
Making an A and adequate yearly progress once is nice, she said. Getting there again is the next step.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.